Friday, April 27, 2012

Yachts setting sail in annual Newport to Ensenada race

By Jenny Stockdale, Special to the Daily Pilot
April 26, 2012 | 9:00 p.m.
In the words of Dennis St. Onge, "Yellow is fast."

He's the captain of a 1940s Ford woody station wagon-turned-motorboat that will be hard to miss at the start of this weekend's 65th annual Newport to Ensenada yacht race.

"And yellow is going to win this year. Mark my words!" he added, rooting specifically for the 1980s, yellow carbon fiber monohull Taxi Dancer, which placed in the race's top 10 in 2011.

St. Onge, a San Diego resident and professional photographer, has shared the waters with Newport to Ensenada racers since 1993. He uses his sunflower yellow, car-shaped boat to provoke smiles of race attendees and participants alike.

From his sunroof, he has a bird's-eye view of the entire competition.

"I'm kind of all over the roof, which you can bet gives me the ultimate photo platform," he said. "My main goal, though, is to never have an effect on the race other than being positive and helping people have fun. It's kind of like being a seagull."

Just off the Balboa Pier on Friday, more than 218 yachts will negotiate the wind and water for 125 nautical miles to a new finish line at the Hotel Coral and Marina in Ensenada.

Cruising boats start at 11 a.m., following by racing boats at 12:40 p.m.

The vessel that gets to the Ensenada breakwater with the shortest corrected handicap time, which accounts for variations in speed and ability among the sailing vessels, wins.

St. Onge's vessel, Da-Woody, though not competing, has been deemed the event's unofficial mascot. The boat can sometimes be seen with a nameless parrot perched atop and an 18-foot American flag trailing behind its 12-foot hull.

"I add a little color to the event, besides yellow," St. Onge said. "The race is good, clean fun, and it's extremely therapeutic. When I go out on my boat and see folks smiling back at me, it's like a perfect world. If you make someone else happy, you're happy and it makes a giant happy snowball that just gets bigger and better."

Yellow isn't the only fast ingredient of this race.

Lexus is giving the winner a two-year lease on a 2013 Lexus GS 350 sedan.

Starting the race are Bill Gibbs' 52-foot multihull Afterburner; Per Peterson's Dencho 70, Alchemy; Bob Lane's Andrews 63.3, Medicine Man; the Tres Gordos' Andrews 50, It's OK; and the Reichel/Pugh 68, Taxi Dancer, owned by Dick Compton, Jim Yabsley and Tom Parker.

Missing from this year's race, due to a sailing obligation in New York, will be Dennis Conner and his Farr 60, Stars & Stripes. His vessel was the first monohull to finish in 2011, first in its class and first overall on corrected handicap time.

"He's sad to miss this one," said Rich Roberts, a press officer for the race. "But a lot of folks are pleased. Dennis being absent might give them chance to win this year."

All racers will challenge the 2009 elapsed time record of 10 hours, 37 minutes and 50 seconds, held by Doug Baker's monohull, Magnitude 80.

They'll also be chasing the untouchable 1998 record of the late Steve Fossett, who sailed his 60-foot catamaran Stars & Stripes through the finish line in 6 hours, 46 minutes, 40 seconds. To date, it is the only boat ever to finish before sundown on the same day it started.

Chuck Iverson, commodore of the organizing Newport Ocean Sailing Assn., thinks there's a possibility of beating that unfathomable record.

"It's a long shot, but there are a few catamarans that could pull it off this year," he said, "and if this front goes through and the wind picks up at just the right time, there is a chance the record could be broken."

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